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(2003) (Jean Reno, Juliette Binoche) (R)

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Subtitled Romantic Drama: Two stranded airline passengers begin to develop feelings for one another when they keep running into each other at the airport.
Félix (JEAN RENO) is a businessman and former chef who's headed to Munich to meet his ex-girlfriend Nadia to attend a family funeral. Beautician Rose (JULIETTE BINOCHE) is also traveling, but she's trying to get away from her abusive boyfriend, Sergio.

When both of their flights are delayed due to bad weather and strikes, Félix and Rose end up meeting at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport. Despite them being polar opposites in terms of personality - she's an extrovert and he's a nervous hypochondriac -- she agrees to a platonic invitation to share his hotel room overnight so that she doesn't have to sleep at the airport.

From that point on, and as various delays keep reuniting them, the two begin to learn about and eventually have feeling for each other.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
It's been said that when it comes to journeys, it's not the destination but the trip getting there that's important. While that might be true regarding lifelong travels in terms of self, career and relationships, it rarely applies to single trips or vacations. Ask any harried parent with a carload of impatient "are we there yet" kids, and they'll tell you that the thing they long for is simply getting there.

The worst-case travel scenario is getting stuck at an airport on your way to or returning from your destination. Not only are the accommodations uncomfortable and most everyone else is agitated, but the fact that you have no idea how long you'll be stuck there or where you may end up only makes the situation that much worse.

Many viewers may have a similar reaction to "Jet Lag," an appropriately titled French romantic comedy set in an airport and an adjacent hotel. Starring the usually charismatic Jean Reno ("Ronin," "The Professional") and Juliette Binoche ("Chocolat," "The English Patient"), the film bears some similarity to "Forces of Nature" where two opposites are brought together at an airport due to forces beyond their control.

Whereas that picture turned into a road trip flick, this one stays grounded in terms of romance and comedy as well as its locale. Both films use their journeys - active or stranded - in a symbolic sense for what's occurring in the characters' lives at that particular moment, but this one never does much with that.

Reno, sporting long locks, plays a neurotic and hypochondriacal businessman whose romantic relationship has floundered. Binoche, buried deep beneath layers of facial makeup, plays a beautician who's fleeing an abusive relationship.

Director Danièle Thompson ("La Bûche," writer of "Cousin Cousine") - who works from a screenplay she co-penned with son Christopher Thompson ("La Bûche," "The Luzhin Defense") - thus employs the "opposites resist and then attract" storytelling device. The problem is, the overall effort, from top to bottom, feels as grounded as its characters.

With essentially just two settings, the film literally has nowhere to go and thus must rely on its characters and the story to carry it and engage the viewer. Unfortunately, that doesn't occur on either point. While the characters' initially clashing characteristics are occasionally quaint, they more often come off as contrived and forced.

It doesn't help that the chemistry between the leads is lukewarm at best, thus diminishing our hopes that they'll overcome their differences and get together or that something - please, anything - special will occur.

Thus, we're left with scene after scene of them running into each other (when not on the cell phone), little of which is particularly funny, romantic or remotely interesting. When the two finally end up in a hotel room for some platonic R&R, the film really bogs down. With that low-level chemistry and few resultant sparks, we're left to watch the two getting to know each other by revealing various facts about themselves.

With their contrived, familiar and not particularly imaginative roles and working from the lackluster script, Reno and Binoche simply can't do much to enliven their characters or interest the viewer. Unless one is a diehard fan of either or both performers, the result is about as engaging and/or interesting as sitting stranded at an airport, wondering when things will take off.

Yet another film that isn't horrible but instead is as flat and long as a runway, the fact that "Jet Lag" never gets off the ground means we don't care when it finally comes in for a landing at its cinematic destination. The effort rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed June 6, 2003 / Posted June 27, 2003

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